UK airports scrap £9 million iris recognition scheme

Birmingham and Manchester airports have scrapped multi-million pound eye scanners, which were introduced to speed up passport control. Heathrow and Gatwick are expected to ditch their scanners after the Olympics.

The Labour government spent around £9million on the Iris Recognition Immigration System – also known as IRIS.

According to ministers the scanners were able to process travellers in as little as 12 seconds, however passengers often spent longer being scanned by the machines than when going through traditional passport control.

Some travellers have had the misfortune of getting trapped inside the scanning booth when they stopped working.

Border Agency bosses have refused to state whether the scanners will be removed completely, and announced they are ‘still considering’ the future of IRIS.

In 2004, then immigration minister Des Brown unveiled IRIS claiming it would provide a ‘watertight’ check of identities as well as slashing queues.

The system was targeted at foreign passport holders within the UK who travel frequently, and want to avoid queues. Users were required to undergo a free 15-minute registration to record the pattern of their iris every two years.

When launched the IRIS system cost £4million to run on top of its £4.9million development cost.

However plans to use the technology for UK passports were dropped after the revelation that one in ten travellers were wrongly rejected by the machine, and then were forced to wait for manual checks.

Lucy Moreton, Immigration Service Union’s general secretary said that the IRIS scheme has had problems from the beginning.

She said: “IRIS scanners are prone to throwing up false alerts when genuine travellers try to use them. We welcome the decision to phase them out”.

James Baker, of privacy group No2ID said: “This is recognition that IRIS scanning is an expensive failure. The money would be better spent employing more trained staff to use their initiative and check passports manually”.

A spokesman for the Home Office said: “We are phasing our IRIS and will be replacing it with other types of gates that non-EU passengers will be able to use”.

Article by Charlotte Greenhalgh